Why the Holidays Have Us Feeling More Generous than the Rest of the Year
In one cold, gloved hand I hold a thick blanket rolled up with gloves and socks stashed inside and, in the other, a Styrofoam container of warm food. Ham, mashed potatoes, a roll, a slice of pie served out of the trunk of an SUV. A homeless man wearing a coat two sizes too big for him approaches—quick, shuffling footsteps in the dark—and I offer him a meal, my voice staggering through the winter air in iridescent puffs that remind me that I can’t feel my toes. I’ll put it over with the other stuff, he tells me, gesturing toward a wooden table where plates, bags, packs of food are stacked up from one end to the other—a feast of half-eaten turkey and cold bread. Everything we’re bringing them has already been brought. We’ve had to throw a lot of it out, he explains to me, or put it on the fire. I still give him the meal; it’s warm now.
Our team is out here every week—a rag-tag group, piling in and out of our cars, armed with food, blankets, clothes, hygiene packs—and I’ve never seen so much food at once at any of the camps. I’m not even sure if there’s enough people here to eat it all. We’ve been getting meals delivered all week, morning ‘til night. I don’t even need to leave camp. I’m getting bored, he jokes.
When we get back into the car—crank up the heat, rub your hands together, don’t think about those who you just left that don’t have a warm car or home to return to—it hits me with a quick, disheartening realization what’s so different about this week. The holidays. Thanksgiving was Thursday and November is nearly over, making Christmas just one quick hop away. The holidays have people feeling more generous. The holidays bring to mind images of steaming, oversized meals, families gathered around candle-laden tables, fellowship, lit fireplaces, warmth. The holidays, for me, bring to mind peeling potatoes at the kitchen sink with my older sister, my mom’s annual Christmas bottle of Kahlua, our broken clock that still somehow manages to play Christmas carols each hour, shoveling our snowy sidewalk, Christmas candles, and, yes, warmth. That’s why it’s so hard to see those who won’t be indoors to make these memories this holiday season. That’s why more people feel the urge to donate, volunteer, serve during the holidays.
And serving during the holiday season is important, there’s no denying that. A blanket or a coat could change someone’s life in these cold nights. But, there’s also the rest of the year to consider. What about when there’s been lots of rain and the river that people are living beside rises and the water ruins all their clothes, tents, sleeping bags, blankets in the middle of August? What about when a camp beneath a bridge burns down in the summertime and whole families lose all their belongings? What about every single day for people living on the streets, looking for food, water, clothes, shelter?
There may be more of a need for helping those on the streets stay warm or get indoors in the winter, but there’s a general need all year long. If we’re able to give around the holiday season, we’re most likely able to give other times throughout the year. We can’t let our sentimentality about the holidays allow us to give generously just once a year. We can’t perpetuate the thought that one Thanksgiving meal given to the homeless is enough. We can’t let the calendar determine our generosity.